RIYADH/BEIRUT (REUTERS, AFP) - Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said he was confident that Democrat Joe Biden's incoming US administration would pursue policies that help regional stability and that any discussions with it would lead to strong cooperation.
Riyadh is bracing itself for a new United States president who pledged on the election campaign trail to reassess ties with Saudi Arabia, a state he described as a "pariah" in 2019.
"I'm confident that a Biden administration would continue to pursue policies that are in the interest of regional stability," Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud told Reuters in a virtual interview on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G-20) Leaders Summit, which his country is hosting.
"Any discussions we will have with the future administration will lead to strong cooperation."
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman enjoyed close personal ties with President Donald Trump and their relationship provided a buffer against international criticism over Riyadh's rights record following the murder of Saudi journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi, Riyadh's role in Yemen's war, and the detention of women's rights activists.
Those areas may now become points of friction between Mr Biden and Saudi Arabia, a major oil exporter and buyer of US arms.
Prince Faisal emphasised the 75-year history of strong defence cooperation between the two countries and said he expected it to continue.
He said it would be entirely appropriate for the United States to designate the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen as a foreign terrorist organisation.
"We all know much of their weapons and a significant part of their ideology comes from Iran. So they are certainly a foreign-backed terrorist organisation," he said.
Washington sees the group as an extension of Iranian influence in the region. Mr Trump's administration has been threatening to blacklist the group, sources have told Reuters, as part of its maximum pressure campaign against Teheran. Iran denies that it gives financial and military support to the Houthis.
Saudi Arabia lobbied hard for the campaign against rival Iran, and at issue is how Mr Biden will address Teheran's ballistic missiles and support for regional proxies in any talks to revive an international nuclear pact with Iran that Mr Trump quit in 2018.
Prince Faisal also said the kingdom enjoyed good and amicable relations with Turkey, which has been at odds with the kingdom for some years over foreign policy and attitudes towards Islamist political groups. The murder of Mr Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul sharply heightened tensions.
For more than a year, some Saudi and Turkish traders have speculated that Saudi Arabia was enforcing an informal boycott of imports from Turkey.
The minister said he has not seen any numbers that would support the existence of a boycott.
Commenting on the rift among Gulf countries with Qatar, Prince Faisal said Riyadh was seeking a way to end a dispute with Qatar. The dispute dates from 2017 when the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a boycott on Qatar, severing diplomatic and transport ties and accusing it of supporting terrorism. Qatar denies allegations of supporting terrorism.
In the lead-up to the G-20, leading human rights groups and families of jailed activists called on G-20 capitals to boycott the summit over Riyadh's rights record.
Asked whether Saudi Arabia was considering clemency for detained women's rights activists, a prospect initially raised by the Saudi ambassador to the United Kingdom and subsequently walked back, Prince Faisal said clemency was a non-issue, given the women were still on trial.
The detainees are accused of harming Saudi interests. Few charges have been made public but some relate to contacts with foreign journalists, diplomats and rights groups.
In a separate interview with CNN, Saudi's minister of state for foreign affair Adel al-Jubeir said the kingdom will deal with Biden as a friend, whether he’s Republican or Democrat.
“President-elect Biden has been in the (US) Senate for 35 years, he has tremendous experience... I don’t expect that there’s going to be major change in terms of America’s foreign policy,” Jubeir said.
“We deal with the presidents once they’re in office, and we have huge interests with the United States."